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Polite forms in Polish vs English

Lorenc 4 | 28
5 Apr 2009  #1
Suppose, in a very casual context, you'd like to ask someone (e.g. a close friend, your girlfriend etc) to buy something for you, say some milk. In English I'd in all probability say something along the lines (NB I'm not an English native speaker):

[We've run out of milk!]
-Do you mind popping down to the shop and get some?
-Could you (please) go and buy me some?
while I'd instinctively avoid giving a direct order instead of asking a question, such as:
We've run out of milk! Go and buy some.
Saying something like this sounds excessively peremptory to me, all the more so if the sentence is not capped by a "please".

Now, I've been told by a Polish speaker that in Polish it is normal to give, in informal situations, such "orders" and that the use of gramatically polite forms ("could you...", "do you mind...", "...please?" ) would be seen as either mush or even as a sign of stiffness and aloofness.

What do you think? Is it true that Polish is generally more direct then English in such things?

5 Apr 2009  #2
yes Polish is more direct in this case and many others
Bondi 4 | 142
6 Apr 2009  #3
Actually, it's the other way round.

I don’t know about the Americans, but the English just can’t be as simple and straightforward as probably every other nation in the world. They have a strange mind to over-complicate everything. When it comes to asking someone about something, it’s even worse: for example, you should not ever directly say ‘no’ to anything they ask. Just make up an excuse, say there’s an earthquake or UFOs have landed, but do not ever say ‘no’ to an Englishman.

One typical example:

“You want a cupper, darling?”
“I’m alright, thanks.”

(I.e. translated: Would you like a cup of tea? - No, thanks.)
gumishu 11 | 4,956
6 Apr 2009  #4
Didn't I say Polish is more direct :)
mafketis 17 | 6,912
6 Apr 2009  #5
Americans are similar (if not as extreme)

"Would you like some coffee?"
"That's okay"

Americans are also phobic about giving anyone orders (unless they're in the military or wish they were).

"You know, that's the kind of thing you almost might want to try X."
"Do X! or else!"

"Do you think you might be able to open the window?"
"Open the damned window already!"

"yeah ... I think I might have mentioned that before."
"Are you f**king deaf? I told you a thousand times!"
niejestemcapita 2 | 561
6 Apr 2009  #6
the English just can’t be as simple and straightforward as probably every other nation in the world

I dont suppose you'd mind terribly explaining what on earth exactly you mean here, would you?....:}
gumishu 11 | 4,956
7 Apr 2009  #7
in colloquial Polish a way to order someone to do something a bit more indirectly is to say:

weź otwórz to okno - literally take open this window (word for word)

I guess 'take to opening this window' does not give the same notions in English

weź się odpiernicz :) - hey, beat it

weź przestań - stop that

Weźmy się i zróbcie ;) - sort of 'let's get to it and YOU do it' ;) - this is humorous

there is also - no weź - stop it (sort of)
osiol 55 | 3,922
7 Apr 2009  #8
“You want a cupper, darling?”
“I’m alright, thanks.”

The answer could be "No, you're alright."

There's nothing wrong with answering no. Not really is a good one though. The best way of using this kind of politeness is not to be completely vague or unobstrusive, just slightly.
7 Apr 2009  #9
Being a sensitive soul it's taken me some time to get used to my polish girlfriend's more direct approach to things like this. I thought it was just me, but after reading this post I think that perhaps she is more direct. She doesn't tend to be so much into please and thank yous. I think you're right though us brits do tend to go overboard when it comes to politness and beating around the bush. But then, there's so much lovely vocabulary out there, why not indulge oneself a little bit from time to time? :-)
8 Apr 2009  #10
Apropos "being direct", too blunt etc...., there's a not so old saying about the Dutch, that when a couple is having a row and one of the couple runs off in tears, it's usually the man)))))) LOL

Never in all my born days did I encounter directness bordering on downright hostility, not to mention sheer rudneness, as when I have been together with a group[ of fluent English-speaking Netherlanders!! WOW! Let the fur fly..........

ShelleyS 14 | 2,895
8 Apr 2009  #11
She doesn't tend to be so much into please and thank yous. I think you're right though us brits do tend to go overboard when it comes to politness and

There is no such thing as "overboard", I'm a firm believer in using good manners, I can't abide rude people!

Do you mind popping down to the shop and get some?

would be perfectly acceptable, as long it's followed with a please

We've run out of milk! Go and buy some.

Would make me go out and come back 2 days later, without the milk
hfm - | 27
8 Apr 2009  #12
there is something call diplomacy, something that in poland is just no exist, please what you have to be so rude,

polite is the best way to keep a relationship
z_darius 14 | 3,971
8 Apr 2009  #13
polite is the best way to keep a relationship

only if someone is interested in keeping that relationship ;)
hfm - | 27
8 Apr 2009  #14

that all about
z_darius 14 | 3,971
8 Apr 2009  #15

And how long is that British "request" tradition?
8 Apr 2009  #16
Shelley, the point is here, people who are blunt to a fault don't even see their behaviour as "rude". We must then chalk it up to cross-cultural misunderstanding-:) LOL
gumishu 11 | 4,956
8 Apr 2009  #17
things are simpler the Polish way; sensitivity as for politness is not allways followed by sensitivity to people's life or problems.

if we don't say much please in Polish, and as a rule are more direct with orders it is unnatural for us to start this way in English, if someone gets offended - well not really meant to offend anyone.
8 Apr 2009  #18
Gumishu, what I think you're trying to say is that the lack of constantly prefacing every request with "Please...," by no means indicates a lack of sensitivity. An Anglo-Saxon though might feel slighted or perhaps offended.

Is that what you mean? :)
8 Apr 2009  #19
yes I meant - English/American people may feel offended by the way they are addressed by Polish people, but as a rule there is no offence meant,

(still as far as I can remember I have most of the time used quite polite (unnaturally polite in Polish) language towards the English(e.g. Could you bring me this or that? when in Polish it is quite normal to say 'Bring me this or that. where it is softened by the presence of the first name of a person we are addressing(it really makes a difference). "Piotrek, przynieś mi tą skrzynkę z narzędziami". 'Piotrek, bring me that tool case". It's the tone of the sentence that makes it polite or opposite (or anything inbetween)) But still never used that much of those 'pleases'. )
niejestemcapita 2 | 561
8 Apr 2009  #20
English/American people may feel offended by the way they are addressed by Polish people,

yes this is translation can sound really abrupt...for example starting a sentence with "Listen!" or (in a cafe for example) "yes?"
8 Apr 2009  #21
I find it funny actually. My opinion is it really saves you time to speak the Polish way. In Polish naturally it's the tone that matters. Perhaps it is not as much pronounced in English. Any ideas?
niejestemcapita 2 | 561
8 Apr 2009  #22
yes certainly more economical..;)
I suppose tone is hard to pick up on in any language u are learning.
I think tone is REALLY important in English too....for example, that thing I cant stand! when British people are saying polite words or forms but with a really horrible tone? And then you cant even say they are being rude! Like when "oh I am so sorry!" actually means F@@@ u?
9 Apr 2009  #23
Nasty with a smile. A Brit specialty-)))) LOL

hfm - | 27
9 Apr 2009  #24
why polish people is keeping saying is about languague, sorry but politeness exist in all languagues

spanish-por favor, etc, etc, dont keep saying is about languague, is just in poland the people is not polite, try to learn be polite we are all human beign no animals

I know, people feel unconfortable, when someone talks polite, just dont have good self-esteem, they are from village, not degree or eduaction at all.....

so polish a lot work to do, be polite dont let your country down
osiol 55 | 3,922
10 Apr 2009  #25
The trouble with this subject is that English is a language, whereas Polish is a language and a culture. I'm not saying there isn't diversity within Polish, but it doesn't have widely divergent forms covering first and second language speakers in a variety of countries around the globe, all with histories of their own.

Let's take South Africa as as example. It is one of the world's younger English-speaking nations. The story I heard is of a South African boy starting school in England. The teacher says "Would you like to..." then follows what is actually an order to complete a piece of work. The South African boy replies "No, I wouldn't like to, but if I should do it, then I will."

Another story: I stood in the queue at the Chinese noodle stall (sadly defunct) at St. Albans market one Saturday morning. Just in front of me in the queue was an American chap. With each item he ordered, he said the words "Can I get..." which struck me as sounding quite rude. For him, this was polite enough, but for a native like myself, this way of asking for service is flipping out of order!

The butcher whose shop I go to whenever I need to buy some good quality meat for cooking, always calls me sir. He doesn't have to. He doesn't have a boss telling him to address everyone as sir or madam. He is the boss. He just calls everyone sir or madam because it is a polite form in the English language.

so polish a lot work to do, be polite dont let your country down

It may be because informal speech is generally accepted as the mode of speech to use in the workplace, that polite address in Polish is something I have almost only ever seen in books. I don't feel comfortable using it because I have such limited experience of actually using it and hearing it first hand.
10 Apr 2009  #26
First - as it has been already said here :) - politeness isn't only about words. And certainly isn't about one word "please". Body language and voice intonation are very important too. The words can be empty.

Second - In polish language we use polite questions too: "could you give me that?" (if you add please - it will sound even more overwhelmingly polite and unnatural) - although we do it rather in more formal situations. We can say "give me that" or ask "will you give me that?", when we are familiar with someone - it isn't impolite then and nobody is offended. It can be even a sign that we feel good in someone's company (not stiffly ;)

hfm your accusations are pointless and groundless. You don't know polish language so it's hard for you to comprehend some polish customs. If I understood you correctly - you are impolite now. Would you please stop offending Polish people? ;- )
osiol 55 | 3,922
10 Apr 2009  #27
In some, perhaps many cultures, polite address is used with those who are unfamiliar and those who are familiar but not liked. Polynesians apparently are good at this - if you want to insult someone, it's best to address them with utmost politeness.

Would sir care to hear me most graciously call him a complete and utter.... now what was it I said about this time last night?
mafketis 17 | 6,912
10 Apr 2009  #28
The Polish/Australian linguist Anna Wierzbicka (and all Poles who I've asked have agreed) the polite way in Polish of asking someone you know well is to use an imperative because this implies recognition of the other person (and is not perceived in terms of power).

Impersonal forms explicitly ignore the person being spoken to and are therefore far more rude in Polish.

compare in decreasing politeness:

(proszę) zamknij drzwi = (please), close the door (the comma is important here)

proszę zamknąć drzwi = please close the door

drzwi zamknąc = to close the door

In most native forms of English, things work very differently. In my own USEnglish the imperative is a risky form because it implies a power hierarchy and potential conflict (and USers try to avoid verbal conflict whenever possible). So the politest strategy is a request instead of an imperative "Do you think you might be able to close the door?" or "think you could get the door?" (which would sound awful and probably rude and condescending in Polish).
Ryszard - | 89
10 Apr 2009  #29
Second - In polish language we use polite questions too: "could you give me that?"

Not only it can be, in fact it is. Talking directly and "impolite" is an privilege and sign of intimacy - at many differrent levels. Even more, sudden comeback to very polite level can be found offensive or even declaration of cold war. It's hard to explain, I think it's like with japanese men bowing - they always know precisely what deepness and angle is correct, but for foreigners it's unsolvable riddle :)

Anyway, if your polish BF/GF starts talk to you more and more directly, don't be afraid as it's (most probably) good sign of your developing relationship :)
lunchbox 1 | 22
13 Apr 2009  #30
From what I've seen, people whose native languages are not that big on addressing people formally, have a tendency to drop out the polite "pan/pani" form and address everyone as "ty". And that does not fly well. Maybe it's just the culture I was brought up in.. but when I see a 19 year old kid addressing their professor in such a manner it just makes my skin crawl. However looking at myself and my fellow students of Polish in Slovenia, we have problems with the correct polish form as well.. since in my language addressing someone formally calls for the use of the 2. person plural and as a slip of the tongue we all do it a lot when speaking Polish as well.

As far as the English being more polite than the Polish.. I would have to disagree. The forms might be a bit more subtle.. but the tunes - oh my, the tunes! They're quite expressive.. it's all in the way one delivers the sentence. And I would have to say I have never seen such complete turnabouts of character as one can witness when the English go abroad on vacation. :P

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